CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — President Barack Obama challenged young Africans to rise to the challenge of shoring up progress on the continent that rests on a "fragile foundation," summoning them to fulfill the legacy of South Africa's beloved former leader Nelson Mandela.
In his own effort to carve out a piece of that legacy, Obama announced a new U.S.-led initiative to double access to electric power across Africa, vowing to help bring "light where there is currently darkness."
"Nelson Mandela showed us that one man's courage can move the world," Obama said during an evening speech Sunday at the University of Cape Town.
Obama's remarks capped an emotional day that included a visit to the Robben Island prison where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. The 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero has been in hospital for most of this month and is said to be in critical condition.
In deeply personal remarks, the U.S. president spoke of standing in Mandela's cramped prison cell with his two young daughters, Malia and Sasha.
"Seeing them stand within the walls that once surrounded Nelson Mandela, I knew this was an experience they would never forget," he said. "I knew they now appreciated a little bit more that Madiba and other had made for freedom," Obama added, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
Obama address came nearly 50 years after Robert F. Kennedy delivered his famous "Ripple of Hope" speech at the same university, an address that Obama aides said helped inspire the president's remarks. Kennedy's speech, delivered soon after Mandela was sentenced to prison, called on young people to launch a fight against injustice, creating ripples of hope that would "build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
Laying out his own vision for development on the continent where his father was born, Obama said the U.S. seeks "a partnership that empowers Africans to access greater opportunity in their own lives." He dismissed the notion that the U.S. sought to meddle in Africa's affairs, saying his country would benefit from the continent's ability to manage its own affairs — economically, politically and militarily.
"Ultimately I believe Africans should make up their own minds about what serves African interests," he said. "We trust your judgment, the judgment of ordinary people. We believe that when you control your destiny — if you got a handle on your governments — then governments will promote freedom and opportunity, because that will serve you."
The White House says Obama's electricity initiative, dubbed "Power Africa," symbolizes the type of cross-continent ventures the president seeks. Backed by $7 billion in U.S. investment, the power program will focus on expanding access to electricity in six African countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania.
Private companies — including General Electric and Symbion Power — will make an additional $9 billion in commitments. However, those contributions fall well short of the $300 billion the International Energy Agency says would be required to achieve universal electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.
The funds are aimed at expanding the reach of power grids and developing geothermal, hydro, wind and solar power.